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The Black Rider

Max Brand







  “Now God be praised. Senor, the Black Rider,” he said, “I see that I have to do with a gentleman and not with a cutthroat.”

  “Be assured, friend,” said the Indian dryly, “that if I were a throat cutter, yours would have been slashed at our first meeting. This is to be a fair fight with equal weapons.”

  “However, you still carry a pistol at your belt.”

  The Indian tossed that weapon behind him and into the shrubbery.

  “We are now even forces.”

  There was a ring of joy in the throat of Guadalmo.

  “Fool,” he said, “you are no better than a dead man!”



  Title Page

  A Fair Fight


  Part I - The Black Rider

  Chapter I - “Beginning The Journey”

  Chapter II - “The Flute Player”

  Chapter III - “Taki”

  Chapter IV - “A Wager that Taki Wins”

  Chapter V - “Beginning a Fortnight of Service”

  Chapter VI - “Lucia’s Servant Interviewed”

  Chapter VII - “Guadalmo”

  Chapter VIII - “The Black Rider”

  Chapter IX - “Flashing Blades”

  Chapter X - “Trapped”

  Chapter XI - “The Chase”

  Chapter XII - “Lucia Faces the Master”

  Chapter XIII - “The Seventh Encounter!”

  Chapter XIV - “A Rescuer”

  Chapter XV - “Escape”

  Part II - The Dream of Macdonald

  Chapter I - “‘Red’ Macdonald”

  Chapter II - “Sunset”

  Chapter III - “The Pact”

  Chapter IV - “The Dream”

  Chapter V - “In Quest of Trouble”

  Chapter VI - “The Gregorys”

  Chapter VII - “Between the Eyes”

  Chapter VIII - “A Very Pleasant Party”

  Chapter IX - “Turn Back”

  Chapter X - “The Banquet of the Dead”

  Chapter XI - “The Note”

  Chapter XII - “Not to Kill”

  Part III - Partners

  Part IV - The Power of Prayer

  Chapter I - “When West Meets East”

  Chapter II - “Gerald Goes to Culver City”

  Chapter III - “Tommy Dear”

  Chapter IV - “Vance Makes a Bet”

  Chapter V - “The Campaign Begins”

  Chapter VI - “Gerald Meets Cheyenne Curly”

  Chapter VII - “Kate Rolls a Boulder”

  Chapter VIII - “Gerald’s Blindness”

  Chapter IX - “A Chance for a Kingdom”

  Chapter X - “The Gathering of the Storm”

  Chapter XI - “Tom Writes a Letter”

  Chapter XII - “What Women Hate Most”


  Other Titles

  About the Author

  Other Leisure books by Max Brand ®



  Max Brand is the best-known pen name of Frederick Faust, creator of Dr. Kildare, Destry, and [many other fictional characters popular with readers and viewers worldwide. Faust wrote for a variety of audiences in many genres under numerous pseudonyms. His enormous output, totaling approximately thirty million words or the equivalent of 530 ordinary books, covered nearly every field: crime, fantasy, historical romance, espionage, Westerns, science fiction, adventure, animal stories, love, war, and fashionable society, big business and big medicine. Eighty motion pictures have been based on his work along with many radio and television programs. For good measure he also published four volumes of poetry. Perhaps no other author has reached more people in more different ways. Born in Seattle in 1892, orphaned early, Faust grew up in the rural San Joaquín Valley of California. At Berkeley he became a student rebel and one-man literary movement, contributing prodigiously to all campus publications. Denied a degree because of unconventional conduct, he embarked on a series of adventures culminating in New York City where, after a period of near starvation, he received simultaneous recognition as a serious poet and successful popular-prose writer. Later, he traveled widely, making his home in New York, then in Florence, and finally in Los Angeles.

  Once the United States entered the Second World War, Faust abandoned his lucrative writing career and his work as a screenwriter to serve as a war correspondent with the infantry in Italy, despite his fifty-one years and a bad heart. He was killed during a night attack on a hilltop village held by the German army. New books based on magazine serials or unpublished manuscripts or restored versions continue to appear so that, alive or dead, he has averaged a new book every four months for seventy-five years. In the United States alone nine publishers now issue his work. Beyond this, some work by him is newly reprinted every week of every year in one or another format somewhere in the world. Yet, only recently have the full dimensions of this extraordinarily versatile and prolific writer come to be recognized and his stature as a protean literary figure in the 20th Century acknowledged. His popularity continues to grow throughout the world.

  The stories I have collected for this book do not appear in chronological order. The organizing principle, instead, is the expansiveness of Faust’s imagination when it comes to the Western story as a form of literary art and the fecundity with which he would vary his themes, examining problems and dilemmas of the human condition from numerous disparate viewpoints. In another sense these stories fit together as episodes in a great saga, very much after the fashion of Homer in the Books of Odyssey. No matter how much editors or his agent might tell Faust that he was writing stories that were too character-driven, he could never really change the way he wrote. In order to write, he was fond of saying, I must be able to dream. As early as 1921, writing as George Owen Baxter, Faust had commented about Free Range Lanning in “Iron Dust” that Lanning “had at least picked up that dangerous equipment of fiction which enables a man to dodge reality and live in his dreams.”

  Brave words! Yet, beyond this, and maybe precisely because of the truth in them, much that happens in a Western story by Frederick Faust depends upon an interplay between dream and reality. There will come a time, probably well into the next century, when a reévaluation will become necessary of those who contributed most to the eternal relevance of the Western story in this century. In this reévaluation unquestionably Zane Grey and Frederick Faust will be elevated while popular icons of this century such as Owen Wister, judged solely in terms of their actual artistic contributions to the wealth and treasure of world literature, may find their reputations diminished. In such a reévaluation Faust, in common with Jack London, may be seen as a purveyor of visceral fiction of great emotional power and profound impact that does not recede with time.

  The stories collected here, early or late, have all been restored where necessary by comparing the author’s manuscripts with the published versions. They are set in that land Faust called the mountain desert, a place for him as timeless and magical as the plains of Troy in the hexameters of his beloved Homer and as vivid as the worlds Shakespeare’s vibrant imagery projected outward from the bare stages of the Globe. Faust was not so much mapping a geographical region in his Western stories as he was exploring the dark and bright corridors of the human soul—that expanse which is without measure, as Heraclitus said. For Faust, as for his reader, this experience is much as he described it in 1926 for Oliver Tay in what became The Border Bandit (Harper, 1947):…He was seeing himself for the very first time; and, just as his eye could wander through th
e unfathomed leagues of the stars which were strewn across the universe at night, so he could turn his glance inward and probe the vastness of new-found self. All new!” In these explorations of the inner world Faust’s fiction can be seen to embody a basic principle of the Western story that quality which makes the Western story so vitally rewarding in world literature, the experience of personal renewal, an affirmation of hope through courage, the potential that exists in each human being for redemption.

  The Black Rider

  The Black Rider” was Faust’s original title for this short novel. It first appeared in Western Story Magazine (1/3/25) under the Max Brand byline. Although until now it has never been reprinted, it did serve as the basis for The Cavalier (Tiffany-Stahl Productions, 1928), a motion picture directed by Irvin Willat starring Richard Talmadge and Barbara Bedford. This black and white film was made utilizing the early Photophone process that included on the track sound effects and a musical score composed by Hugo Riesenfeld. The theme song was “My Cavalier,” with the music by Riesenfeld and lyrics by R. Meredith Willson, perhaps best known for his 1957 Broadway musical, “The Music Man.” For some reason that only Hollywood screenwriters could ever hope to explain, Taki’s ethnic heritage was changed in the film from Navajo to Aztec.

  “The Black Rider” is an excellent example of a Western story by Faust in which most of the conversations between various characters intimate a subtext that is deeper and far more meaningful than what they would seem to be saying. The setting here is Spanish California at the time when the eastern colonies of this country were still ruled by Great Britain. Lucia d’Arquista is a splendid heroine and, notwithstanding the title, this is very much her story and her confrontation with her own soul. Indeed, the Black Rider in a way is only a metaphor for that divine force Vergil once sought to capture within an image both awesome and sinister: numina magna deum.

  I “Beginning the Journey”

  If Señor Francisco Torreño had been a poor man, the bride of his son would have been put on a swift, horse and carried the fifty miles to the ranch in a single day, a day of a little fatigue, perhaps, but of much merriment, much light-hearted joyousness. However, Señor Torreño was not poor. The beasts which he slaughtered every year for their hides and their tallow would have fed whole cities. Sometimes he sold those hides to English ships which had rounded the Horn and sailed far and far north up the western coast of the Americas. But he preferred to sell to the Spaniards. They did not come so often. They offered lower prices. But Torreño was a patriot. Moreover, he was above counting his pence, or even his pesos. He counted his cattle by the square league. He counted his sheep by the flocks.

  To such a man it would have been impossible, it would have been ludicrous to mount the betrothed of his only son and gallop her heedlessly over the hills and through the valleys to the great house. Instead, there were preparations to be made.

  The same ambassador who negotiated the marriage with the noble and rich d’Arquista family in Toledo had instructions. If the affair terminated favorably, to post to Paris out of Spain with all the speed of which horseflesh was capable, and from the same coach builder who supplied the equipages of Madame Pompadour to order a splendid carriage. About the carriage Señor Torreño mentioned every detail, except the price.

  Chiefly he insisted that the exterior of the wagon should be gilded with plenty of gold leaf and that in particular the arms of the Torreño family—that is to say an armored knight with sword in hand stamping upon a dying dragon—should appear on either side of the vehicle.

  All of this was done. The sailing of the Señorita Lucia d’Arquista was postponed until the carriage was completed and had been shipped on a fleet-winged merchantman for the New World. And, when the lady herself arrived, she was ensconced in that enormous vehicle as in a portable house. For it was hardly less in size!

  Twelve chosen horses from the estate of Torreño drew that carriage. They had been selected because they were all of a color and a size—that is to say, they were all glossy black without a single white hair to mar their coats, and their shining black hides set off the silver-mounted harness with which they were decked. In the front seat, lofty as the lookout on a ship, was the driver, a functionary of importance, shouting his orders to the six postilions who, with difficulty, managed the dancing horses, for these were more accustomed to bearing saddles than pulling at collars.

  In the van of the carriage rode a compact body of six men from the household of Torreño, mounted upon cream-colored steeds. Six more formed the immediate bodyguard around the coach itself. And, finally, there was a train in the rear. These were composed, last of all, of ten fierce warriors, well trained in Indian conflicts, skillful to follow trails or to take scalps, experts with musket and pistol and knife. In front of this rear guard, but still at a considerable distance from the coach, journeyed the domestics who were needed. For, at every halt, and on account of the wretched condition of the road, the carriage was sure to get into difficulties every three or four miles, and a tent was hastily pitched, and a folding cot placed in it so that the señorita might repose herself in it if she chose. There was a round dozen of these servants and, besides the animals they bestrode, there were fully twenty pack-mules which bore the necessities for the journey.

  In this manner it will be seen how Torreño transformed a fifty-mile canter into a campaign. There were some three score and ten horses and mules; there were almost as many men. And the cavalcade stretched splendidly over many and many a rod of ground. There was a great jingling of little silver and golden bells. And the dust cloud flew into a great flag of flying cloud from beneath the many hoofs as they mounted each hilltop, and settled in a heavy, stifling fog around them as they lurched down into every hollow. They marched eight hours a day, and their average was hardly more than two miles an hour, counting the halts, and weary, slow labor up the many slopes. Therefore it was a march of fully three days.

  All of this had been foreseen by the omniscient Torreño. Accordingly, he had built three lodgings at the end of the three separate days’ riding. Some flimsy structure, you would say, some fabric of wood and canvas? No, no! Such tawdry stuff was not for Torreño! He sent his ’dobe brickmakers and his builders ahead to the sites months before. He sent them not by the dozen, but by the score. They erected three spreading, solid buildings. They cleared the ground around them. They constructed commodious sleeping apartments. And the foresters of Torreño brought down from the foothills of the snow-topped Sierras young pines and firs and planted them again around the various halting places, planted them in little groups, so that they made groves of shade, for the season of her arrival was a season of summer heat. And where in the world is the sun more burningly hot than in the great West of the Americas?

  Shall it be said that these immense labors strained the powers of the rich Torreño? Not in the least! For the servants of the great man he numbered by whole villages and towns—Indians who had learned to live only to labor, and to labor only for their Spanish masters. He had almost forgotten the commands he had given until, riding down to the port, he had passed through the lodges one by one and, with the view of each, the heart of Torreño had swelled with pride. For the glory of his riches had never grown strange to Don Francisco. His father had been a moneylender in Barcelona who had raised his son in abject penury and left him, at his death, a more than modest competence. Don Francisco had loaned it forth again, at a huge interest, to a certain impoverished grandee, a descendant of one of those early conquistadores who considered the vast West of North America as their back yard. The grandee had been unable to pay interest. In short, in a year Don Francisco foreclosed and got for the larger half of his money—a whole kingdom of land. He sailed out to explore his possessions. For days he rode across it, league after league, winding up valleys with rich bottom lands, climbing well-faced mesas, struggling over endless successions of hills.

  “What will grow here?” he asked in despair.

  “Grass, señor, you see!” />
  They pointed out to him sun-cured grasses.

  “But what will eat this stuff?”

  “It is the finest food in the world for either cattle or horses,” he was told.

  He did not believe, at first. It was a principle with him never to believe except under the compulsion of his own eyes; but, when he extended his rides through the neighboring estates, he indeed found cattle, hordes of them—little, lean-bodied, wild-eyed creatures as fleet as antelope, as savage as tigers. They, indeed, could drink water once in three days and pick a living on the plains. So Don Francisco, half in despair, bought a quantity of them—they could be had almost for the asking—and turned them loose on his lands. He gave other attention to the bottom grounds and farmed them with care and at the end of ten years his farm land was rich, to be sure, but the cattle had multiplied by miracle until they swarmed everywhere. Each one was not worth a great deal—nothing in comparison with the sleek, grass-fed beeves which he remembered in old Spain; but they were numbered, as has been said, by the square league. They needed no care. They grew fat where goats would have starved. They multiplied like rabbits. In short, it took ten years for Don Francisco to awaken to the truth; then he got up one morning and found himself richer than his richest dreams of wealth. He went back to Spain, bought a palace in Madrid, hired a small army of servants, dazzled the eyes of the city and, as a result, got him a wife of his own choosing, high-born, magnificent, loving his money, despising him. She bore him this one son, Don Carlos, and then died of a broken heart among the arid hills of America, yearning ever for the stir and the bustle and the whispers of Madrid. In the meantime, Don Francisco grew richer and richer. He began to buy his own ships and employ his own captains to transport the hides and the tallow back to Europe. He sent expeditions northward along the coast an incredible distance into the frozen regions, and they brought back furs by the sale of which alone he could have made himself the richest man in Barcelona. But he no longer thought of Barcelona. He thought of the world as his stage. When he thought of kingdoms and of kings, he thought of his own wide lands, and of himself in the next breath.